A Natural History of Human Morality (2016) by Michael Tomasello

Categories: 2016, Books, and Non-Fiction.

For the vast majority of recorded human history, we humans have believed that morality comes from somewhere outside of us; from “above,” from the ether, from some kind of benevolent creator, etc. Even as we have learned more and more about how humans evolved from apes who evolved from “lower” animals who evolved from “lower” lifeforms who evolved from, essentially, “ooze” we have still maintained that human morality comes from outside of human beings. The idea is that morality has been bestowed on us by something, or existed before we did, and we access it. When I was growing up Read More

Jung: A Very Short Introduction (1994) by Anthony Stevens

Categories: 1994, Books, and Non-Fiction.

When I was a teenager, some adult told me about Jung’s collective unconscious. I didn’t read a thing about it, but took whatever they told me and created my own elaborate theory about our thoughts influencing others (which has nothing to do with Jung). Ultimately, that theory was a responsible for a lot of mental stress on my part. Years later, it feels like a lot of wasted energy. Read More

In the Dark (2016)

Categories: 2016, Non-Fiction, and Podcasts.

I forgot to review this when I finished listening to it (and I presume I have forgotten to review a bunch of other podcasts I finished). This is a frustrating, devastating and infuriating portrait of a child kidnapping in the 80s, the near-absolute power of country Sheriffs in the US (and their general incompetence) and how badly things can go when something seizes national attention in a democracy. Read More

Fast Food Nation (2022) by Eric Schlosser

Categories: 2002, Books, and Non-Fiction.

Much of what Schlosser covers in this boo I was already familiar with, thanks to things like Food, Inc. But I’ve never read a book about the industrialization of food before and, as books are wont to do, Schlosser covers this in much more detail than any documentary you’re going to watch. For the most part, this is an engaging and even darkly amusing read, full of tragic but humourous depictions the kind of hypocrisy we’ve come to expect from American champions of “the free market” who take advantage of government subsidies and regulations, but who think nobody else should Read More

The 15-Minute Mathematician (2015) by Anne Rooney

Categories: 2015, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I took math through university, being so silly as to think I could minor in it (I couldn’t…not quite). But since I graduated I have forgotten so much of the more advanced math that I did understand, and everything I partially understood has utterly vanished – over a decade later, it’s as if I didn’t take 10 university level math courses. I recognize that I shouldn’t be the audience of this book, but I am, given that I have forgotten most of what I learned. Thought his book is written for a UK audience, it’s easily decipherable to a North Read More

The Storyteller (2000) by Anna Porter

Categories: 2000, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a memoir by a Hungarian-Canadian about her Grandfather and her early life in Hungary. Her Grandfather was full of stories about their family and Hungary. Though these stories are probably quite compelling for some people, particularly Hungarians but also anyone who enjoys a good yarn, I had trouble caring. I am somebody who is much more interested in truthful history than in imagined history. I understand why people would prefer the latter, but I do not. And so I struggled with the first 100 or so pages of this book. Read More

Turning Pro (2012) by Steven Pressfield

Categories: 2012, Books, Non-Fiction, and Personal.

At this point, Pressfield has made a second writing career out of inspiring others to write. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and they get less effective each time I read a new one. Why? Because basically they are all the same book. Pressfield is passionate about writing something that compels us to write, but he gives the same advice in each book, with only slight permutations (even quoting from The War of Art here). Your much better off buying War of Art (or something you find more effective) and just re-reading that one book. I don’t Read More

The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) by Steven Pinker

Categories: 2011, Books, and Non-Fiction.

If you watch the news today, you will be told the world is awful. Even if, like me, you do not have cable, you can still get enough news of the awfulness of the world from your antenna or the internet. The news is an endless barrage of controversy and tragedy; controversy over the supposedly awful things that people do to each other, and the tragedy of yet another series of deaths, caused by human beings or natural disasters. Even if you’re a bit of an optimist, as I am, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that the world is Read More

Informing the News (2013) by Thomas E. Patterson

Categories: 2013, Books, Journalism, Non-Fiction, and Society.

This book was written to make the case for “knowledge-based” journalism. It was sponsored by an initiative that is trying to establish that kind of journalism. The author believes strongly in the cause ans has been a crucial part of the initiative that sponsored his work here. But despite the fact that this is very much a work of advocacy, it is a compelling and informative read, touching on the history of American journalism (print, radio, TV and internet) as it explores the issues that have arisen with the rise of “Infotainment” and “Citizen journalism.” Though I question the methodologies Read More

The Peep Diaries (2009) by Hal Niedzviecki

Categories: 2009, Books, Journalism, Non-Fiction, Psychology, and Society.

This is a relatively interesting and amusing book about how modern technology and modern culture have created a brave new world that we don’t really understand how to navigate (and which could have all sorts of unintended consequences for us. However, the book suffers from a number of problems which make it not among the best books to examine this particular moment in human history (and there are a lot of these books). First, Niedzviecki tries to give all the different things he covers one name: Peep. Obviously that didn’t stick. And the problem is that he comes off as Read More

Thomas Paine (2006) by Craig Nelson

Categories: 2006, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I have only ever read The Rights of Man many years ago. I loved Paine’s wit (there are many classic one-liners, including my favourite anti-monarchist barb of all time: “a hereditary monarch makes as much sense as a hereditary poet laureate”) but found his philosophy superficial, probably because I had just left grad school. This biography makes a compelling case for Paine being one of the greats of the enlightenment – man able to combine philosophical ideas with prose that was intelligible to the masses and who wrote about any number of topics (and even designed bridges!). In this version, Read More

The Violence of Financial Capitalism (2011) by Christian Marazzi

Categories: 2011, Books, and Non-Fiction.

It has been a long time since I’ve read a book this dense. A long time. Maybe grad school, maybe in the years after grad school when I tried to re-read or finish lots of books that I felt I hadn’t spent enough time with in school. Either way, I don’t think my brain is trained for this stuff any more. And, well, I never took economics. So that’s a problem. Read More

The Quest for a Moral Compass (2014) by Kenan Malik

Categories: 2014, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I have been reading Malik’s blog for more than a few years at this point (I think), in part because I feel like he has much greater insight into the issues around jihadism than most of the people writing in North America (who I’ve had a chance to read). I find his approach not only measured – which is refreshing – but also imbued with a strong knowledge of the various cultures at play, and a knowledge of history. It is for this reason that I got this book. To be honest, I was initially quite disappointed. I am not Read More

A History of Rome – Second Edition (1991, 1994, 1996, 2001) by Marcel Le Glay, Jean-Louis Voisin, Yann Le Bohec, David Cherry

Categories: 1991, 1994, 1996, 2001, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a general history of Rome meant, I believe, for use in schools as a textbook. It’s written that way anyway, so it’s rather dry. The strength of the book is in the early going when it provides a great deal of pre-history to the empire, pretty much all of which I was unfamiliar with. Another strength is that the authors mostly refuse to speculate, so this is likely an accurate, not one that thrives on biased ancient accounts or on inventing motives for historical actors. But the book has two major weaknesses, even though it has been updated Read More

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1962) edited by Donald Kagan

Categories: 1962, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is an old sampler of theories about the decline of the Roman Empire that I think was part of a class my father took in university. It was assembled in 1962, but the first issue with it is that many of the books and articles it draws on were published significantly earlier. And though we’ve learned a lot since 1962 about how to “do” history, they no doubt had learned much between 1916 and 1962. And I mention this because some of the excerpts included are laughably unsophisticated and one of them is actually a racist “explanation” of how Read More

How to Work a Room (1988, 2013) by Susan RoAne

Categories: 1988, 2013, Books, and Non-Fiction.

There are parts of this book that are helpful if you are shy (the author claims that most of us are shy…) or if you don’t know how to go about networking. But… Like most self-help books, it is awfully repetitive.And that’s hard to take.Also, the author doesn’t understand proper emphasis, despite teaching English herself. She uses quotation marks and capitalization (mid-word!!!) in place of italtics. That’s nit-picky, I know. But excessive, incorrect use of quotation marks is a major pet peeve. But the problems don’t stop there. This book contains two separate chapters on online “manners” or “etiquette” and Read More

Summer of 49 (1989) by David Halberstam

Categories: 1989, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I am not a Yankees fan or a Sox fan but I am a fan of The Breaks of the Game, probably the best book I have ever read about sports. This book is not on that level, but, for someone like me who was not alive during the summer of 1949, and who was unaware of what happened, Halberstam still manages to capture enough of interest for someone like me, who hates both teams, to make this engaging, interesting and even compelling by the end. There’s a host of interesting back-stories and some of the the most interesting information Read More

The War of Art (2002) by Steven Pressfield

Categories: 2002, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I don’t for a minute believe anything Pressfield says about the universe or inspiration. Like so many “self help” books, Pressfield’s advice is founded on a completely unsupportable metaphysic – I find myself utterly disagreeing and rejecting his metaphysics while finding his practical advise utterly useful and inspirational. (I have this experience so many times with these books – can’t stand the foundation but understand and appreciate the practical advice.)I guess Pressfield’s ideas about the universe and existence are a necessary noble lie for many people – no doubt Pressfield himself – in order to convince himself and his readers Read More

Remembering Glenn Gould (2012) by Colin Eaton

Categories: 2012, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a very unusual biography in that it is told by the people who knew Gould instead of by an author who tries to create a narrative of his life. The approach is interesting and, if you don’t like false narratives, it’s refreshing. And certainly there is a lot of information for Gould obsessives or anyone (like me) who has only ever watched documentaries about him and not read anything. But Eaton asks very similar questions to each person. He fails to follow up a lot of the time when someone says something weird or interesting. Occasionally he does, Read More

Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont (2010) by Joseph Boyden

Categories: 2010, Books, and Non-Fiction.

At first, I found the style fairly jarring. This was not what I was expecting. And I am not sure it’s entirely appropriate, certainly if you are looking for a rigourous historical study. But, as I read it, I found it worked well enough. Well enough that it triggered my own creative ambitions, much like the other book I read in this series. Where you read it here or somewhere else, the story of the Metis in the “North West” is tragic. This version, which emphasizes the plans of Dumont and Riel, is particularly tragic, as you are exposed to Read More

Uncoupling (1986) by Diane Vaughan

Categories: 1986, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I interrupted my normal reading schedule to read this book specifically because I was going through a breakup – a relationship of nearly five years, the longest romantic relationship of my life, had ended. I chose Uncoupling of the books recommended to me because I found it the easiest but also because it appeared to not be a a self-help book, and I don’t enjoy the proscriptions of self-help books – I generally find them condescending. On the whole, Uncoupling is a landmark study of the end of relationships and if you, like me, learn and grow from seeing yourself Read More

Millioniare (1999, Janet Gleeson)

Categories: 1999, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a brief, cursory biography as these things go. It’s certainly interesting but the predominant feeling I am left with after finishing is “I want to know more.” Gleeson says she didn’t want to get bogged down in financial details to make this accessible to the general reader but the problem is that her thesis is significantly hurt by her unwillingness (or inability) to discuss the financial moves of Law in greater detail. This is much more a portrait of a person than it is a discussion of the legacy of his behaviour. I would have liked more detail, Read More

Civilization (2011) by Niall Ferguson

Categories: 2011, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This appears to me to be an attempt by Ferguson to provide a sort of sequel to Guns, Germs and Steel. I say that because both books begin the same way – the attempt to answer a question about Europe’s predominance over the last few hundred years and because Ferguson makes multiple reference’s to Diamond. I am guessing Ferguson was not entirely satisfied with Diamond’s explanation and sought to get more detailed about the rise of Europe. If you could get past the horribly self-congratulatory preface – if your edition is unfortunate to have it – I think he does Read More

Your Movie Sucked (2006) by Roger Ebert

Categories: 2006, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I used to read Ebert a lot while he was still alive. It’s not that I necessarily agreed with him all the time – I find that he both overrates some well-made children’s movies, and falls into that typical critic’s cliche of thinking the values of his generation are universal (more on that in a second) – but rather that I appreciated his sense of film history. To anyone looking to really get into 20th century cinema, Ebert’s list of ‘The Great Movies’ would be a fine entry point. That being said, we should recognize that, though Ebert is probably Read More

The Book of Imaginary Lands (2013) by Umberto Eco

Categories: 2013, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a history of human beings’ invented worlds, not specifically from fiction but rather (mostly) worlds which human beings invented to explain the unknown parts of the earth, which exploration and science hadn’t yet revealed. The chapters cover worlds such as Atlantis, Shangri La, and numerous other fabled lands. Each chapter is further supported by excerpts from many of the referenced texts. Eco isn’t always obvious in his purpose – though if you have read Foucault’s Pendulum, for example, you already know how he feels – at least in the first chapters but his intent is, rightly, to point Read More